Cranky Aunts and other Memories

18543_1252857814166_5455564_nNovember isn’t the same any more…at least in what is left of my memory bank. As soon as we finished our Thanksgiving dinner, which was eaten at the convenience of deer hunters, I always strapped on a pair of my brother’s old outgrown skates and tried to hop around branches and twigs inbedded in ice on a little piece of bog near our house. It was cold. There was usually snow on the ground..maybe not much, but a tracking snow for the hunters and enough for my old buckle boots flapping away to make a little trail.

October was the month for kicking leaves to see how high they would go. We had no leaves in our yard as there was nothing but the old apple tree complete with the old auto tire hanging for a swing.

But I digress. This time of year if I think back to Greenwood Center, my  mind goes to an early morning fog rising off Twitchell Pond and shivering til the sun came up to take the nip away. I was going to tell you about my cranky aunts…which probably is terribly unfair, now that I think of it…at my age.

I blame it on the fact I was brought up with three brothers, no other  girls in the neighborhood to play with except for one exceptional year and then she left after the one year.

My days were spent with my Uncle Louie ( the one with the sapphire eyes) . I turned the grindstone handle for him or watched as he meticulously piled the winter wood in a very artistic manner. I visited my Uncle Roy to see his latest carvings and needless to say, followed my father around when I was eight or nine years old. So I was more at ease with men then with women.

The two women who figured in my life were my mother, who was busy either working at home or at the mill and my dear little Grammy Martin, who shared her hen house duties with me, as well as snapping peas on her front porch.

So it came to pass, one day I was told that my Aunt “Vi” was moving back to live with Grammy. She and her husband were coming from Connecticut , which in my young mind, must be a million miles away. She was nice . I stood on the porch and watched her unpack box after box. I can imagine that drove her to distraction as finally she gave me a kewpie doll on a stick and I ran happily home with that. Our paths did not clash for about a year after that.

Grammy’s house didn’t seem the same. It had always been Louie, Grampa and Grammy and we got along very well, thank you. One thing remained constant. We still were carrying water from Gram’s to drink and cook with, so that one day I thought nothing of carrying the pail across the field and into Gram’s kitchen. W-e-l-l. I took one step into GRAM’s kitchen and a gawdawful screech came from the other side of the house.

“I just washed and waxed that floor and now you’re on it.” Frankly, our own floor at home was made of boards and we scrubbed it. Period. I had heard of wax on cars and skiis but on floors? I had no idea. Gram stood behind my aunt, wringing her hands. Now Gram and I had come a long way in my short life and no one was going to make her wring her hands. I reached down, touched the floor, brought my head up and said, “Your floor is just fine.” and proceeded to fill the pail and when it was full, I strutted out of GRAM’s house, head held high.

After leaving the water at home, I proceeded to pass Gram’s house to go visit my friend, Grace, and my aunt was still screeching about what kind of a daughter her brother had and I think the word “uncivilized” came into play, but at age 8 or 9, a good roll of my eyes sufficed.  After all these years, I can see this scenario in my mind as if it happened yesterday and I think that is how I learned throughout life…observe and learn( and be a little snarky at the same time, obviously).

Now, wait, there was another aunt who thought I could have gone to charm school and profited highly. My cousin , Blaine, was unfortunate enough to be born exactly one year after me. We both were photographed so many times, there could be a full length movie made of us. SO it came to pass, that on that precious day in February, I should leave my school desk and proceed up Bird Hill with cousin Blaine to have a birthday “dinner” with him. Aunt Mary, in all her goodness and kindness of heart, had the best intentions and I cannot tell you how many years we plodded up the hill. I was about the same age as the big floor wax eruption, so maybe it was just a bad year for me.

I remember the table being covered with food…remember our own table at home usually held the fare of fish sticks, deer meat, trout etc. We are talkng a banquet, in my eyes, topped off with a cake the size of the Eiffel Tower. I ate..and ate..and ate..the cake was served and Blaine and I went out to play until it was time to plod back down the hill to school. Suddenly through the open window, I heard, “Does that child ever eat at home? Where does she put it all? I have never seen anyone eat as much at one sitting as she did.”

Blaine apparently did not hear this, as he continued playing. I started feeling guilty. Maybe I did take too much. Maybe this, maybe that, so by the time we got back at our desks, my stomach was as taut as a trampoline. I managed to get through til the bus took us back home, but without saying a word to the parents, swore I would never go back. I was so ashamed.

Fast forward to the following year. I sit at the table, look at the towering display of food and take just enough to cover a small portion of my plate. Aunt Mary stands behind me saying , “My goodness, child, you eat like a bird. You have to have more than that to get you through this afternoon even.” It could have been the clash of the Martin temperment; hers of her generation; mine in my generation. I swore I would starve before taking one more morsel.  I didn’t take one morsel; I didn’t starve.

But what I did do was learn. I observed, ( got a little snarky and stubborn) but I learned. Most of my life I have learned how to get along in society by observing….and it all started with two cranky aunts….who, incidentally, were two precious friends when I finally grew up!

HUNTING SEASON AGAIN

huntersGrowing up in Greenwood Center, Maine, probably was not the most exciting, but with the coming of the fall’s crispness and gathering of apples, one could feel what could only be described as a zing of excitement with hunting season closing in.

This was way before the days of flourescent clothing and Dad’s red and black plaid heavy jacket hung on the peg behind the woodstove just waiting for that first fog shrouded morning when the calendar said “it’s time!”

Oh, the planning that went into each venture. Chairs were pulled around the kitchen table, heads bent low as Dad penciled a map where each man was to go. Some would “drive”, others would be standing here and there. I will preface this by saying, I was the only one in the room who did not participate in hunting nor even understand what was going on. As we “kids’ grew into teenagers, my mother even joined the foray and enjoyed every minute of wandering the mountains. This was almost beyond my comprehension when most of her life was working in local mills and for any enjoyment, sitting behind her sewing machine. She  now had a gun and was joining forces with all these men! Unbelievable.

The kitchen air was so full of cigaret smoke that it hung like smog over a city. It was part of the whole game plan. No one thought about lung damage, unfortunately, or any serious health hazard. The smoke was as much a part of the planning as my mother’s new glass coffee pot perking on the woodstove. That glass coffee pot almost caused a casualty..and it had nothing to do with the hunting whatsoever.

Dad had completed a good share of what was to be the next morning’s hunt and decided he would have a bit more caffeine to brighten his outlook. He did what he described as a “Canadian Clog” learned in the potato fields of northern Maine, to the stove, grabbed the pot, filled his cup and clogged back to the stove, only to mis -calculate the height of the stove. There was quite the clang and bang with my mother running top speed, but Pyrex must have made them sturdy. The brand new glass coffee pot was intact as was my Dad’s head after that near catastrophe.

As with most young men, my two older brothers often had late nights prior to an early morning hunt. When I say early, I mean before the sun is up and my Dad behind the wheel of his car, gun by his side ready to roll. One morning he tracked a deer or perhaps got a shot at one ..so many years ago I forget the details, but he came ripping back to the house. My brothers were still snug in bed, blankets to their chins. This was just not done..not in hunting season. Up the stairs Dad bounded, yanked both out of bed, exclaimed in as few words as possible the position he was in and that they had to get up and at it immediately. I cannot relate what happened after that, only for years after, one of my brothers mentioned he was on top of a mountain hunting, glanced down and he was wearing his “dress shoes” from the night before. Hunting was serious.

As much as I disliked seeing the dead deer, I realized at an early age, it was necessary to shoot and use all the meat. It got us through the winter and we were taught to say nothing…if we did not like to look at the dead deer, don’t look. Period. Even knowing that, I shared in the excitement of seeing the car come in the driveway and if the trunk was a bit ajar, running with the rest to see if there was a deer in there.

When the time came for flourescent clothing, most men were downright disgusted at the flaming oranges etc. Over the years it was accepted and has probably saved a lot of lives. There was only one time when my Dad came home, ashen faced and looking a bit scared. Come to find out, someone had shot in his direction. He hit the ground after just the one shot. When he decided it was safe, he got up and found the bullet hole in the tree next to where he was standing. His one remark was “Damn out -of-stater”. It could have been his neighbor, but so much easier to blame it on someone with a strange number plate on his car.

There is nothing better than a mince pie made out of real mince meat ; my mother took the meat and ground it for what seemed forever. I remember the sizzle of the steak as Dad cut it from a hind quarter and tossed it in the hot frying pan. We seldom called it venison; it was deer meat. It has been a long time since I’ve had meat like that. I did have some about twenty years ago from a friend in Vermont and it tasted like beef to me and someone said it was because they grazed with the cattle in the fields. Now, that to me, is not deer meat. Deer meat has to be earned..you get up before dawn, run yourself ragged, eat track soup  most of the season and if you’re lucky, on the last day, you get your deer and pose with the tag in the ear.

I could never bring myself to hunt; but the memories of hunting season bring a special feeling.

The Perfect Brother

From the day he drew his first breath, some _____( add your own number, Rex) years ago, he was the Prince of Greenwood Center in my mother’s eyes. I say this , not as his only sister, but it was a well known fact that he also “took after” her side of the family with his darker looks and he had the “look”. You know, the “look” that spells innocent in capital letters? He had it. It came with him; his own personal birthright.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that not only did I not look like my mother’s side of the family with the blonde hair, blue eyes and don’t give a crumb attitude so imbedded in the Martin side, but that I lacked an innocent look. I looked guilty when I was completely innocent…my own personal birthright.

I remember distinctly the brawl in which Rex and I were engaged when mother emerged on the scene in the little room. At the time I may ( or may not have had) a broom in my hand. I admit to nothing. The end result was the smashing of a very valuable lamp chimney on whose light we depended the minute the sun went down. I swear my mother did not, did not even look in his direction. She took one look at the broom, at me, pointed at the open door and said and I quote after sixy some odd years, “Young lady ( she always called me that when she was furious and just short of putting me up for adoption) you get out in the neighborhood, see who has a spare chimney and don’t come home without one.” I went to the door, turned and yelled my most famous chant of the times, “HE started it”. Two of her steps in my direction and I hit the dirt with feet flying. We had light that night so apparently I was successful…the rest of the scenario blurs in my mind.

Another uppermost in my mind was the famous door yard fight where we had flung everything possible at each other until we came to our foot wear. It was in the middle of this melee of throwing shoes at each other when mother came out the front door and yelled, “What are you doing?” Strange in looking back, Rex did not move. I ran like the wind for the main road and in the breeze behind me was mother’s voice echoing, “you have to come home some time, young lady.” (Notice the ‘young lady’ title again). I did go home but I think I waited until we had company because she did not want to show her wrath ( i.e. dirty laundry) in public.

As we grew older and in high school, his friends were my “buddies” too. His best friend was my favorite buddy, but there came a time when that friendship was almost severed.  Seems there was a Sadie Hawkins Dance, and as you know, the girls have to ask the boys. No way did I have any interest in any boy there nor did I want to even attempt to dress up and attend. OK, so his pleading look ( another birthright) got to me when he said his buddy wanted to go but would only go with me. Long story short. I asked, we went, the buddy forgot to put gas in the car at Phon Brown’s filling station and we ran out just about where the road to Johnny’s Bridge is today on Rt. 26. Oh, no, the buddy said. Well, another so called buddy came along, and off to the nearest gas selling establishment they went and returned with a red five gallon can of the needed fuel to take us to this dreaded event.  The dance was ok..we might have taken six steps around the floor and talked with everyone else we knew that night…and then on the way home..oh, yes, everyone was gathering at a local hang out by a pond. Actually that is what we did back then..just hung out, talked, joked, some sneaked a beer and home we went. For some reason, some guy made a remark in my direction that the “good” buddy did not like and he lashed out with his fist, missed the guy completely and drove his hand into a birch tree, barking up every knuckle on that hand. The ride home was interesting, interspersed with whimpers from behind the wheel. That is why I had no interest in asking any boy to any dance. Period.

In spite of my lapses in judgement and agreeing to incidents like the one described above, Rex rescued me a few times from a few mis-judgments on my part. I dated one guy and at the end of that very long, miserable evening swore I would never go near him again. One Sunday afternoon, he drove in our yard in his very new , low slung 1950’s wide-finned car and inquired about me. Upon seeing the grill of the car, I slung my body to the stairs leading to the attic screaming for Rex to get rid of the guy. I was not an eye witness. It isn’t easy to see when one is under a bed behind two cardboard boxes and a blanket over one’s eyes…however, it was told that Rex wandered casually up to the car, the guy rolled his window down, Rex leaned in, put one finger under the guy’s nose and told him to pull a “u-ee”, get out of the yard and he never wanted to see him near his sister again. The guy blinked, did indeed pull the “u-ee” and I never had to see him again. For that time, I thank my brother.

The last I knew, Rex had forgiven me for putting our one baseball bat on Dad’s sawhorse and using the buck saw on it. It was my turn to bat and that is what he got for being selfish and not giving me an extra turn. That is probably the only time I was to blame for any incidents we may have engaged in during our growing up years.

Then high school graduation came. Rex left and went to Korea. Boy , did I hate to admit I missed him. I was married and to this day I remember his coming through the door at the farm, seeing Debra Jo, a few months old lying on the couch, crossing the kitchen and saying, “Hey, this has to be my niece”….and for a few seconds there all my cranky feelings of his being Ma’s pet went right out the window.

Next month, another birthday, Rex. We always knew we’d make it, didn’t we…shoe throwing and all!

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More Thoughts flutter by

It is on those nights when sleep eludes and my mind is like a hamster on his wheel that I let it go up and down the “tarred” road of the little hamlet where I grew up. Perhaps it is because I know, in time, I will fall asleep in the midst of an old memory.

I start my journey at Dan Cole’s farm which, from my very first memory, I identified as the mile marker from our home. If you walked to Dan Cole’s, you had walked a whole mile.. a tremendous feat for little feet! It was essential for giving directions in the summer to those”out-of-staters” trying to find this and that. ‘Oh you go to Dan Cole’s farm up the road about a mile..white building, turn right and go up over Rowe Hill’ was a phrase repeated incessently most summers.

Then the Case cottage with its annual picnic for all the Greenwood Center neighbors, complete with entertainment from the Cole family. Charlotte and Lillian singing “Wintertime in Maine” with Irving in the background playing guitar. The rest of us milled around the food table and ate as though we hadn’t eaten in a fortnight.

Below I see Stan and Flossie Seames’s little green house on the knoll. Now there was the finest couple ever. One of my first baby sitting jobs was caring for Raymond and Evvie , then six and four years old. They sent word home by my parents that they needed someone for the summer; pay was $12 a week, was I available. Well, just so happened I was and one of the best memories ever in my junk drawer. Each morning Evvie had her hair curled like Shirley Temple. She sat still as a mouse while I wound each curl around the handle of the comb. I hate to admit it, for fear Raymond might get a swelled head, but those two were the best kids I ever sat with in my short baby sitting career.

However there WAS one fly in the ointment. Stan had a tub in the back room and the first day, asked if I minded taking the paddle near by and stirring the contents twice a day. That was no problem. The problem arose when each of my little ones wanted to lick the paddle after the stir. We finally worked it out that one licked in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Compare that to today’s standards and I would be sitting in a jail cell and they would be ruined for life. Traumatized, I am sure. It was harmless and that was the extent of any arguements the entire summer.

One day, I became very bold, found a recipe and decided to make Flossie a chocolate cake. I don’t know why, except at home I was forbidden to get into the ingredients for fear of failure. I remember trembling a bit when she and Stan came home from work and showing her the cake( actually a very good looking one)…well she was so pleased one would have thought I’d given her a million dollars and she couldn’t stop telling me how much that helped her. Music to my 16 year old ears! Maybe that made up for the time I was preparing lunch for the kids and took a can of spaghetti-os from the cupboard which had been laid aside for that meal. Innocent about all foods and anything to do with it, I put the can opener in the top, took one spin with the hand and it exploded. We had spaghettio’s everywhere..even the ceiling. It was a long afternoon of cleaning.

Now you can see why I have such memories in many of the houses in our hamlets. That was the year the hurricane came through. The kids were having a nap and I noticed bottles flying over the porch. Soon Stan and Flossie arrived, followed by my parents to take me home. I stood in our living room and watched the trees bend almost to the ground. The first hurricane I remember in the summer of 1954.

So I leave the Seames and go to the brown house where my great Uncle Elmer Cole  lived . I see in the entry way his assortment of cough drops and other necessities that the neighbors drop in to buy and chat. I only have to say, “Hello I am Ethel’s daughter” and a huge smile appears and he takes my nickel and hands me Smith Brothers cough drops.

Laura Seames lived in the white house and such a lady. She bought the Grit from me and when I was in contention for Carnival Queen, bought a ticket to “help me out”…such a lady.

Of course there was the Cole farm with its big truck, big sand pit and they were rich because they had a telephone! One highlight from that family was the day I went on an unscheduled ride. I was practically on my own turf walking nonchantly along when Elwin came down the “flat”riding his new bike. I admired it and told him I had never ridden a bike. Being the gentleman he was( or maybe I roughed  him up a bit) I was soon on the bike seat. Elwin was running aside of me yelling” keep pedaling, slow down” which, to me, meant two different things. Then the yelling went to “stop” and I had no clue. Long story short…I arrived at the end of our drive way, hit the mail box went over the handlebars, landed in the dirt. By the time I picked myself up, Elwin and his bike were headed up the “flat” toward home.

In this time period, my Uncle Glenn and family had moved and a new family came to live next door. I remembered all the plays that my cousins Louise and Carmen and I put together using their picnic table for the stage. The Center was empty after they moved and the sign with the big bear advertising my Uncle’s taxidermy business was gone.

So many memories flitting and fluttering about in my midnight mind. I am now at our own little house in the woods…..think I will wait for another sleepless night to continue the journey.

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Junk Drawer in my Mind

That’s what it is, you know. That little drawer you pull out or sometimes it just slips out for no reason at all …that drawer full of miscellany gathered through the years. There’s absolutely no reason why some of that data is saved and probably we aren’t aware it is saved until a smell, a song or something from the past pulls the knob and out slides the drawer.

Why would I remember some of the junk that rattles in my brain. So clearly I remember helping Ma hang clothes and when we were finished, she leaned down, picked a small white plant and asked if I knew what it was. Well, without waiting for me to answer, she told me it was Indian tobacco and proceeded to break off the head of it and chew it. Not to be outdone in any way, I followed suit and proceeded to pass the rest of the day by chewing and spitting out some sort of brown liquid and thought I was pretty smart for my nine years of age. Ma did not take much time during her busy hours for fun and laughter, leaving that up to my Dad who excelled at it, but the Indian tobacco day lives in my mind.

I seemed to be the “achy” kid. It was a known fact that my left ear could not go a day without it rattling the side of my head. In fact, at one time during a particularly horrid winter, a friend of my mother’s at the mill, sent a hot water bottle to school by her son during the lunch hour. I remember laying my head on the hot water bottle during the afternoon and how grateful I was for the heat. Dad had his own cure for that at home. In the evening, he lit a cigarette, brushed my hair to one side, and blew the smoke in my ear and immediately pushed some cotton in. Whether it was because he took the time to pay attention to my ear or whether the warm smoke really helped, I have no idea. My mother turned both thumbs down when he announced that some friends had another “cure” back in the “old country”. They used a teaspoon of urine in the ear and that cured all. For some reason, whatever Ma told Dad about that suggestion never made it to my junk drawer.

I always had one tooth that ached. Like other kids at the time, I had made a trip to Dr. Brown in Bethel, had the gas, teeth pulled etc but that one tooth would not let me rest. Ma always went to the cupboard, pulled down a can of McCormick’s cloves and told me to put a dab on my finger..on to the tooth and it would calm it. It did and I swear I used more cloves in my mouth than she did in her cooking. I never tried that on my own four kids though.  Apparently the junk drawer did not have time to open and hand me any of this information.

A lot of useless (?) information floats around in my brain. I remember Dad telling me never to fish for yellow perch in August because they were always wormy that month. I passed that on to my oldest son. I hope Dad knew what he was talking about. Most of any information I have that I probably will never use again was given me by Dad. Like, whatever you do, Muff, don’t buy a Dodge Dart. Those buttons are useless and wish I had never bought it. I think the buttons were the gears if I remember correctly…I had long been married and had no intentions of buying a Dodge Dart…and on another occasion..don’t buy a damn Chevvy. The key broke off in the door and I can’t get it out.  A lot of information on automobiles, especially if he was in frantic mode time.

Half the junk drawer is loaded with tips on hunting and guns, both of which I cared nothing about and the farther I got from a gun, the better. I guess both Ma and Dad felt that all the kids should know how to handle a gun properly and then if we wanted to use one, well we were set for life. 

I guess the junk drawer kind of skittled out this morning as I went out to water my one tomato plant on the deck. Water them in the morning, Ma always said, of her flowers and plants. You  burn their feet if you wait til noon.

OK Ma, that one stuck with me and I even passed it on to a friend the other day. I am sure the junk drawer will come out again on occasion when needed.

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Ring the bell; Salute the Flag!

Graduation 20030036Oh such memories will arise when former students of the Locke Mills school get together this summer. The picture is an updated one; there was no ramp to the left, no fancy entrance but it was our school.

Some things just stick in your mind and will never leave. After vacations and the beginning of the new school year, I looked forward to my first step inside the building. I loved the smell of the freshly oiled floors. At least I think they were freshly oiled. The smell was unique and I clung to it all day long.

The whirr of the pencil sharpener and the very delicate removal of the filled belly of said instrument was always a sight to behold. Some teachers could empty without one bit of wood shaving hitting the floor while others produced a rain storm. It didn’t take much to swing our heads from serious studying to the mundane emptying of the pencil sharpener.

Teeter boards and swings were the source of entertainment and if I remember, we all took turns without any blood being shed. Today, the topic of bullying is prevalent in most schools. I try and I try to remember if there were any bullying in our little school. It was a different generation and I believe because the majority of students had one thing in common, it united us in a way. Most parents worked in the mill and so it can be said that most were dressed the same way, no family stood out as being “better off” than another. In my class there was a boy we always called “Rim Head”. I don’t know why and I don’t know if he had been called that since birth, but few knew his real name and when we were at recess, the name Rim Head could be heard echoing up over the hill. No one  considered that bullying as he did not care what he was called, obviously. We had our “Baldie” and again, the boy had a full head of hair so I have no clue why he was called that name. I cannot recall anyone calling another fat or stinky or any degrading name, though. I hope my memory is accurate.

Most families had another thing in common. We bought groceries “on the cuff” at Arthur Vallee or Cass Howe’s( later to be Hank Leach’s) stores. Everyone stopped by on pay day and gave what they could toward their bill and checked to make sure it wasn’t  too high. If it was getting out of hand, some how Mr. Vallee would drop a subtle hint and the customer would fork over a bit more on the tab.

I rode to school in a van with two wooden boards on each side in back to make two benches for the students. Cass Howe positioned himself behind the wheel, cigar in hand and we were off! There was an occasional “stuck in the mud”incident and that would be reported with “mud vacation” following closely behind the announcement.

Bus kids brought their lunches in anything that would hold together. We had brown bags and sometimes Ma found lard buckets and later on, buckets in which peanut butter was sold. Oh, that peanut butter was awful, with oil swimming on top…but the pail made it all worth while. It was something like Ma buying laundry detergent which would barely made suds, because she needed the towel inside. Another shining example was the cereal that none of us liked because there was a glass tumbler or dish inside. It was the two for one days back in the Forties and Fifties and little was thrown away.

On the subject of throwing away, very little crumbs of our lunches were ever wasted. As soon as we settled ourselves on the ground, the town-owned mutt ( named Sandy) came and made the rounds to see what smelled the best and who was going to be the generous one of the day. Sandy grew fat and sassy and never failed to show up at the noon feeding. I have no idea where he went in the winter when we were inside the prison against the cold. Probably he had a perfectly good , warm home with plenty of good feed but just liked to socialize in the summer.

What joy in simple tasks–being asked to ring the bell to bring the students. Being asked to assist someone in the raising of the flag outside each morning. Every morning began with the Pledge of Allegiance and our voices became a sea of monotone as the week went on and almost took on a sing-song effect, hand over heart, gazing at the little flag in the corner of the room.

Three rooms; three teachers. So much education came out of that little school. A picture still in my mind of a teacher making peanut butter and crackers when the school boys couldn’t catch up with the speed away sled carrying the kettle of soup one winter day.  The teacher who quietly gave a pair of mittens to a little girl because her hands were cold and almost deep red in color. 

It was a different time; somehow difficult to explain in today’s world. Suffice it to say, we who were fortunate enough to go to the three room school house had something very special…and some very special memories for a lifetime.

July: Eating, Drinking, Fishing

July was unlike other summer months in Greenwood Center. The hot, sultry days made for long waits at the end of the driveway as Ace, the milkman , made his way to all the summer camps. We waited in the hot summer sun, clean milk bottle in hand, ready to exchange it for an ice cold bottle of chocolate or strawberry milk. What a delight to see the bottle with its tears in the moisture just waiting for us to run to the kitchen table, grab the enamel cups and divide up the booty. Was there ever such a delicious treat?? If a local farmer gave us milk, it went to my father who had ulcers and his diet was crackers and milk each evening before bedtime. He had first dibs on the milk and that was as it should be because he was sick and had to work. But, oh, the treat three times a week when Ace came in the milk truck. Ma gave us the change we needed to go with the empty clean bottle and sometimes we waited an hour to make sure we did not miss him. What dirty little urchins we must have looked to him, but he always smiled and was so nice.

The fourth of July was so special as my oldest brother, Tink, waited for his fireworks to come into the railroad station in Lockes Mills. Every day he checked and we waited to hear if the box had arrived from Ohio, that magic place somewhere in the United States that had all the fireworks for people like us! Tink gave Curt and me some sparklers which Ma allowed us to use. He bought roman candles so that Gram Martin could sit on her porch and watch the beautiful colors as he set them off over Twitchell Pond. He seldom bought too many of the really noisy ones as the color was minimal and the noise was enough to wake the dead ( or so my Grampa Martin said…).  Sometimes we had little red rolls of caps and if there was no cap gun available, a rock would do to make them “go off”!

That was also the day of the additional treat of the summer. Watermelon..spitting seeds and all the contests that went with that. The juices ran down our chins and we just did not care except Ma referred to it as a “sticky mess” by the time we were through. We sat outside and just went back and forth on that watermelon slice like a beaver on a log. What a treat!!

Ma sometimes borrowed Uncle Louie’s rowboat and took us to Nick’s Point across the pond for a picnic of sandwiches and kool-aid. There were usually ripe blueberries, so we had a picking good time along with the boat ride. It was fun to see the houses get smaller and smaller as she rowed us across Twitchell Pond. After our picnic, we sat on the rocks for awhile, listened to the ledge hawks scream and then back across the pond for another  year.

During the hot weather, Gram churned her butter on the front porch, hoping for a breeze off the pond. I loved to watch her churn and then dig out her little mold with the pretty leaf on it to make the squares of butter. Only once did I drink her buttermilk. Oh, it was such a hot day and the buttermilk was so ice cold and tasted so good. Two hours later, my body was bent in a comma-shape and my mother stood over me with threats of “if you ever touch that stuff again, I will know for sure you are out of your mind. No wonder you’re sick, drinking that stuff…” That is all I remember about the lecture because I was too busy being sick…well it tasted good going down but I remembered to politely refuse the next time Gram offered some.

Gram had a little beach for the family to use, but in order to get to it, one had to run across a field. I say run, because that is exactly what I did after someone announced there was a huge milk adder snake living in that field. Swimming was never the same after that. I breathed a sigh of relief upon getting to the beach without seeing the snake and the same when I reached the tarred road on the way out. I still wonder if that was a story made up by one of my brothers just to make me run every time…well it worked for about five years!!

Soon there were people from Greenwood City who learned about the tiny swimming hole and we had to look to see if there was a car parked by the field before we could go. Now that made for some cranky kids. After all, it was our Grandmother’s beach and some strangers were there and not room for us?? How fair was that?? Oh how unjust the entire situation was when we could not use the beach the minute we wanted.

Of course, summer meant fishing to me. There is one incident that still stands out in my mind. I knew bass were not to be caught and kept before June 1st..I believe that was the date. One day I was on Mina’s wharf and my line tugged clear to the bottom.  I thought there was a whale on there and so I eased the little alder pole slowly here and there and soon ..plop! ..on the wharf was this big bass. I knew I had to throw it back. On the other hand I could see it in my mother’s fry pan covered with corn meal and frying up golden and crisp. She would be proud of me to think I caught a fish that big..well it was almost a whole meal! Back then, game wardens were more to be feared than State Police. I held my breath, dropped the pole, grabbed the bass and ran for the house. The minute I got to the house, I went to the cleaning rock where Dad had given me lessons in cleaning fish, and within seconds, it seemed, no one could identify that fish as a bass.

Later, I retrieved the alder pole and waited for the folks to come home from work. Dad was the first to see the cleaned fish laying in the cake pan. “What do we have here?” he asked. “I caught a fish,” and that was where I left it. “Looks to me like a bass”. Well I couldn’t lie to him. The man knew his fish, cleaned or otherwise. “Yes.” “Well, Muff, little early in the season isn’t it?” “yes” was all I could muster out of my mouth. “Ethel, get the frying pan hot,” Dad yelled. That was the end of the fish situation.

Now you might be saying, that’s no way to bring up a kid. You have to teach them right from wrong. Dad knew I knew. He knew I worried all afternoon what he was going to say. He figured I had punished myself. Besides, there was nothing he liked better than crisp fried bass.

I miss July in Greenwood Center, Maine.

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